Although we often get lumped together, vegans can be very different from one another. Some of us are militant, some low-key, some freegan, some eco-conscious, some animal focused...the list goes on. I dedicate this post to the high horse vegan (HHV).
"I know that all revolutions must have ideologies that spur them. That in the heat of conflict those ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic." --Saul D. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals
In short, a HHV is self-righteous, or "smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others." Now, there is a fine line between developing a personal set of ethics, opinions, and disagreements...and being self-righteous. Perhaps it is even an art.
My most recent [virtual] encounter with a HHV took place yesterday. Potentially developing asthma, I am currently on a steroid inhaler to counter my lung inflammation. I've been a vegan for 2.5 years, and in the doctor's office struggling for a deep breath of air, I didn't think to talk ingredients. A couple of hours and a lot of money later, I purchased and used an Advair inhaler--which, after reading the directions, turns out to contain lactose.
Bummed I didn't inquire when chatting with the doc, I get online to google vegan asthma medication. I stumbled upon an online forum where an asthmatic vegan articulated concerns similar to mine. One of the responses came from a stereotypical HHV:
"Even if it does not contain animal products, it was definitely tested on animals. Just wheeze."
Hell to the no. First, animal testing on an approved drug already on the market is a sunk cost. Second, this commentator is living what I call the "vegan delusion." The vegan delusion is the idea that, by being a strict vegan, you do not harm animals. This is wrong. Being a vegan means reducing harm to animals where possible--not reducing all harm (which is impossible).
Why? Because simply existing necessary displaces and inevitably harms animals. Your home, your city, your beloved co-op, your yoga studio are currently situated in former ecosystems. That sustainable local farmer you love so dearly? S/he displaces animal populations by planting fields of veggies. Tractors invariably run over and kill some field animals. The list goes on.
For any human being to exist in a modern setting, some amount of animals will be displaced and/or die. As a vegan, the most you can do is reduce that number where humanly possible and where it is efficient to do so. Take my inhaler for example. Seeing as I mistakenly purchased an animal product, from an environmental/efficiency perspective, I am not going to throw away a perfectly usable inhaler. Under this same rationale, I grandfathered in my old leather products when I stopped purchasing new ones (and I am likewise comfortable with recycled leather).
If there is no lactose-free inhaler alternative, I will continue to purchase inhalers as needed. Again, as being a vegan necessarily means mitigating harm to animals where possible (as opposed to eliminating harm all together), in the matter of breathing, this is one corner I cannot reasonably cut.
Is it speciesism to value my life more than the cow tortured for its lactose? One can make that argument. However, it is not only humans that necessarily occupy space and displace others--it is all living things. Call it natural selection, call it the circle of life--whatever you'd like. I am comfortable existing and occupying space, so long as I eliminate harm where I reasonably can.
If you do avoid anything containing any trace of animal and anything ever tested on animals, that is honestly very wonderful. However, the truth is that the vegan delusion of zero harm is and will always be just that--a delusion.